OBJECTIVE: To determine the percentage of metastatic and unexpected residual lung cancer at autopsy in patients considered for curative resection of non-small cell lung cancer during a time when computed tomography was available as a preoperative staging tool. MATERIAL AND METHODS: Clinical data and surgical and autopsy slides of all patients who underwent curative resection of non-small cell lung cancer at the Mayo Clinic In Rochester, Minn, between 1985 and 1999 and who underwent autopsy within 30 days of surgery were reviewed retrospectively for the presence of residual or metastatic disease. RESULTS: Ttie study group consisted of 25 men and 7 women, with a mean age of 70 years. A pulmonary metastasis was identified at surgery in 1 patient (3%). Metastases were found in an additional 5 patients (16%) at autopsy, 1 of whom had 2 sites Involved. These sites included the liver in 2 and lung, epicardium, adrenal gland, and kidney in 1 each. The average diameter of metastases was 1.6 cm. No factor studied was found to be significantly associated with the presence of unrecognized metastatlc disease at autopsy. CONCLUSION: The advent of computed tomography as a staging tool has decreased the percentage of patients with undiagnosed metastatic disease at surgery; however, preoperative understaging in lung cancer remains a problem.
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